FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Army National Guard soldiers bid farewell to Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi as commander of the 28th Infantry Division, during a change of command ceremony at Fort Indiantown Gap Sunday, Sept. 16. Brig. Gen. John Gronski became the division’s 37th commander while Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Todero, outgoing 28ID command sergeant major, passed the NCO sword to Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, now the division’s senior enlisted soldier.
The change of command ceremony included the time-honored mounted review of troops, which gives the outgoing commander a last look at his soldiers while simultaneously letting the incoming commander form a first impression of the unit’s readiness.
Leadership of the “Keystone Division” is responsible for over 14,000 citizen-soldiers and must plan and execute readiness programs for federal combat missions as well as state emergency missions. Marchi assumed command in June 2009.
“It’s been one heck of a ride over the last three years and a total team effort,” he said. “My time as commander of the Keystone Division has been the highlight of my military career.”
Marchi said his tenure saw the division achieve myriad accomplishments, including taking part in a corps-level Warfighter this summer and participation in the Korean Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise last year. He said the division currently has soldiers training in Texas and at Indiantown Gap for missions in Afghanistan and Kuwait, respectively.
“Our soldiers will continue to answer the call with the utmost confidence and courage. While other formations are downgrading, we in Pennsylvania are advocating more force structure,” Marchi said, adding that division actions have strengthened professional relationships with Korea, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Canada. Marchi’s next duty position is as Deputy Adjutant General, Army, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, Pennsylvania Adjutant General, termed the day another milestone in the “illustrious history” of the storied division.
“We in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are indeed very fortunate to have such a well-qualified leader in Brig. Gen. John Gronski , to follow General Marchi. General Gronski has commanded at every level, including command of the 55th Brigade and the 2nd Brigade overseas,” Craig said. “He is absolutely the right man to lead the 28th Division over the next several years.”
Gronski said he looks forward to working side by side with Kepner and thanked the families of soldiers for their sacrifice.
“I am truly humbled when I think of the outstanding leaders and warriors who served in this great division before me,” Gronski said, as he also thanked Todero for “his steady hand and leadership as you guided the division’s NCO corps.”
“The 28th Infantry Division conducts both state and federal missions so that our nation remains free. The safety and freedom come with a dear price in terms of the blood that has been spent,” said Gronski as he recognized Gold Star families and wounded warriors present. “Our nation owes all of our Gold Star families and our wounded warriors a debt we will never be able to repay.”
A special guest at the ceremony was Marine Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North. Now a friend of Gronski’s, he met then-Col. Gronski in Ramadi, Iraq while an embedded journalist with the 2BCT.
“Change of command – and change of responsibility for the sergeants major – is a wonderful tradition,” North said. “We do the same thing in the Marines. And to be here with a good friend like General John Gronski and to see him take command of this great division, America’s oldest, is a great privilege.”
“I had the great privilege of being able to cover the 2nd Brigade in Ramadi Iraq over many months and I watched the leadership of John Gronski leading those soldiers, and, interestingly enough, a Marine landing group that was part of that brigade,” North said. “What we saw in 2007, what was called ‘The Anbar Awakening,’ it began because of what they did on the ground in Anbar Province,” North said.
“This is probably one of the busiest divisions in the entire National Guard,” North added, saying “an enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the communities and employers of Guard soldiers.
Gronski thanked the division’s soldiers for their professionalism and for “the heavy lifting” they do. He said thousands of division soldiers will deploy overseas in the next two years. Twenty-five thousand division soldiers have conducted operations overseas in the past 11 years.
“The last 11 years in the Global War on Terror have been extraordinary – peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, security missions in central Europe, peacekeeping missions again in Kosovo; counterinsurgency and combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for eight years straight.”
Craig said the division has responded to several hundred calls to state active duty in its 133-year history while also emerging as a fully-operational force” through recent deployments of its units.
“Today the division says ‘farewell’ to Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, who has overseen a significant part of this activity,” Craig said. “Randy, your soldiers have been magnificent. Their duty performance has been superior and your leadership through this turbulent time has been the key.”
Craig congratulated Marchi on a job well done and thanked him for providing firm and positive leadership. He thanked the soldiers in the ranks of the division, saying leaders come and go “but it is you, the soldiers who make up the units, who remain.”